Queries: Avoiding the Dry Runs

June 21, 2012

An editor friend of mine was frustrated and was venting on the phone to me about receiving a query that look interesting, so she wrote to the author asking for a full book proposal and first three chapters; the usual.

The author wrote her back, expressing amazement at how quickly she had replied to his query and…oops…was in the process of taking his 175,000 word manuscript down to a more manageable 100,000 words. All I could do is laugh and tell my bud the author was suffering from The Dry Runs. My bud, being the perv that she is, suggested the author needed some Imodium.

No. Not talking about an intestinal situation, but an authorial one. Dry Runs, also known as Premature Submitulation, is an aberration where authors query out, before they’re actually ready, as a way of gauging industry interest. Problems arise when they find themselves busted if someone actually answers their query with a request for pages because the book isn’t actually query-ready.

It may be bad form to ask, but, what kind of fool logic is that??

How Do You Think This Makes You Look?

First off, you always want to put your best foot forward, which means that you are a professional at all times. If you have an editor interested in seeing your work and your reply is to offer up an “oops,” then how do you think you look in the editor’s eyes? You may as well put up a giant flag that says, “I’m A Noob.”

It sounds rude, I know, but it may be helpful to put yourself in an agent’s or editor’s shoes. We have LOTS of queries coming in. There are more authors and manuscript than there are publishing houses to publish them. With the plethora of wonderful books, it’s a buyer’s market, which means that we have our pick of the litter.

If you’re busy doing a dry run and get caught, then you risk alienating the editor who caught you because you’ve already admitted you’re “not ready,” which begs the question, “So when will you be ready, and do I trust you?” It’s not a way to make friends and influence others. For instance, my editor bud will accept those pages from Mr. Dry Run, but she’s already run cold with the author and expects to reject him.

There is never any rush to query, so why not take your time; sit on your manuscript for some time, let it marinate. Then come back to it and reevaluate whether it’s ready. Because, really, dry runs suck stale Twinkie cream.

Premature submitulation

June 30, 2010

The setting: Overworked and Underpaid Editor’s office. The beagle is stretched on the desk, basking in the sunshine. She has already shushed Overworked twice for speaking too loudly and interrupting her beauty nap. In a chair sits a manuscript, blushing furiously and biting the edges of its little corners. Overworked and Underpaid Editor is pacing about the office, wielding her evil red pen like a bloody saber.

Overworked: So, what are you doing here, young missy?

Little Forlorn Manuscript: [she’s so nervous that she’s about to wet her little pages] I-I am the replacement manuscript.

Overworked: But I already have your big brother sitting in the corner. As you can see, I’ve already started reading him.

Little Forlorn Manuscript: [looks to the pile and sees her big brother, who is cursing wildly and trying to pull his pages together] I know. But it was deemed that I was a better replacement. I’m written better and I…

Big Brother: Ah, bite me, you little twerp. You’re nothing but skanky tree shavings!

Little Forlorn Manuscript: …have a stronger opening and better character development.

Overworked: Why did your handlers waste my time in having me read your big brother over there [Overworked casts a glance over at Big Brother Manuscript]…oh for petesakes, Big, get a grip and stop trying to light my office on fire. Geez. [glaring at Little Forlorn Manuscript] I’m halfway through reading your brother, and now you want me to read you? Do you have any idea what a waste of my time this is? Why didn’t your handlers send you in the first place?

Little Forlorn Manuscript: Because, uh, um, I hadn’t been written yet. My handlers took another look at the story and decided I was the better, stronger manuscript. So she edited me and sent me to you. She really, really hopes you aren’t too annoyed.

Overworked: Oh, I’m totally annoyed. You wanna know why?

Beagle: Hey, could you puhleeeze shaddap over there? You’re ruining a perfectly good dream about a threesome with Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.

Overworked: [ignoring the beagle, she continues glaring at Little Forlorn] I’m annoyed because I’ve already started reading your brother. I’m annoyed because now I’m expected to read you. I’m annoyed because your handler suffers from an acute case of premature submitulation, and her blunder forces me to either toss you and your brother out because I’m concerned your handler doesn’t know what she’s doing, or it forces me to read the same story twice. Does your handler believe I have nothing better to do?

Premature submitulation is a dangerous syndrome because your handler is basically telling me she’s not ready. Ok, so she sent you. Yay. Let’s throw a parade. But what makes me believe she’s not at home cranking out another version? Your baby sister, perhaps?

Big Brother: [shouting from the corner] Yah, baby! Bring on the family reunion! Maybe the handler will write a couple of twins in as well. Heck, Underworked, you could be reading fifty versions of us.

Overworked: That’s Overworked, you pulverized pine tree. [settling her steely eyes on Little Forlorn] You can see how this shakes my confidence in your handler. See, I’m thinking down the line here. Let’s say I sign you and we need to edit your pages some [Little Forlorn gasps in fear]. What’s to say your handler won’t create a whole neighborhood of you because she can’t quite make up her mind which of you she likes better. This is the reason my liquor budget is the size of small nations and why my doctor is attempting to clone healthy livers.

Sounds of the UPS truck resound off the walls, forcing the beagle to rush to the door so she can bite his ankles and bare her teeth.

UPS guy: [dressed in full combat gear and extra ankle padding] Delivery for Overworked and Underpaid Editor.

Beagle: [saunters back to her desk perch] Padding…combat gear… pussy.

Overworked: [reading the label, she blanches] Beagle, a round of margaritas. [she dumps a package on her desk and sighs] It’s your handler. She’s sent me yet another sibling. Meet your baby sister.

Little Forlorn Manuscript: I-I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.

Big Brother: Yah, now you know how it feels to be shoved aside, left to rot while that mangy mutt chews on your corners.

Overworked: [pinching nose as she shuffles through the pile of papers and picks up a whimpering sheet of paper] And who might you be?

Forlorn Little Query Letter: Um, I’m the second try at a query letter. You rejected the first one, so my handler sent me.

Overworked: Gawd, I hate family reunions.

The moral of the story is make double-fudge-with-extra-cherries-sure that your manuscript is complete. If you continue to tweak after you’ve sent out pages, you’re suffering from acute Premature Submitulation. The only known cure for this affliction is anal/cranial inversion.

The facts are this: You’re either ready to submit, or you’re not. There are no takey backeys in the query process. You let the genie out of the bottle, so run with it.

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